Growing up in Nashville in the 1960s and 1970s, there wasn’t much “ethnic” food. For Italian, there were a couple of mom-and-pop places that had spaghetti. But I was lucky enough that my best friend, Lisa, came from a real, by-God Italian family. Meals were lengthy, the food was out of this world, the more people around the table, the merrier. Needless to say, I hung out there a lot. Dinner was always the whole family, and they treated me like one of their own. When Lisa and I hit the back door after school, on the stove there would always be a big, deep pot of something that smelled amazing. Likely as not, it was Mama Carbone’s marinara.
Chop up a LOT of fresh, flat-leaf parsley, and mince some fresh garlic. How much of each depends on your taste; err on the side of more-than-you-think.
Open some good canned tomatoes, about one regular-sized can for each person. (You may want to make three times what you need for one meal, as it freezes well and also makes a good sauce for homemade pizza if you drain it more after it’s done.) You can also use diced canned tomatoes; I like the fire-roasted kind for a little more flavor.
Probably the best canned tomatoes for marinara are the imported Italian romas. Drain off the juice but keep it in case you need liquid later. Shred the tomatoes with your fingers (watch out, they squirt) into a bowl.
Heat a large deep saucepan to medium high before you add the oil, especially if it’s olive oil, which burns easily. You can also use any kind of vegetable oil if you prefer. Put just about enough oil to almost cover the bottom of the pan. When the oil starts getting wavy, add the garlic and stir quickly; you don’t want it to brown. You can also add some red pepper flakes if you like a little zing. Dump in the tomatoes, all the chopped parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Turn down to a low simmer; the longer it simmers, the better it gets.
Sticklers will notice that there’s no anchovy in this marinara. If Mama Carbone put some in hers, I don’t remember and, anyway, I am not a fan of anchovies. But purists say that real marinara includes seafood. I’m not a purist, but my friend Neil was and he told me that marinara needs fish. Neil was a fabulous cook (who, unlike me, measured ingredients to the atomic level); more about him here.
This sauce is light, fresh, and vegetarian, and it can be used for lots of dishes. We usually have it over linguine, with some grated fresh parmesan or asiago cheese on top, with a salad. When I freeze it, I put a large ziploc bag in a large glass, pour in the cooled marinara, and suck out all the air. It keeps like that for weeks. Mangia!
If I haven’t remembered this recipe exactly right, I apologize to Mrs. Carbone. The spirit is there, along with some of the happiest memories of my childhood. Tu sei sempre nel mio cuore.
Marian and Ercole Carbone
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